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Mohiniattam is a solo dance from Kerala performed by women using techniques from Bharatnatyam and Kathakali. It is a product of the diverse social and cultural characteristics introduced by invading rulers from neighbouring Tamil Nadu and Kerala. While originally from Tamil Nadu, where it developed as a temple dance, it spread with the ebb and flow of marauding armies hundreds of years ago to what is now known as Kerala. Mohiniattam evolved as a classical art form in the court of the Maharaja Swatitirunnal of Kerala, and was developed particularly by Vadivelu, one of the founding brothers of Bharatnatyam. While a mix of Bharatnatyam and Kathakali styles, Mohiniattam draws upon social and secular themes rather than religious mythology.

As a female only Keralian classical dance form, Mohiniattam is distinct from Kathakali which is performed by males only. Movement patterns are flowing, graceful and liquid, and the body moves in semi-circular curves from the waist upwards. Hand gestures and expressions, however, are similar to those of Kathakali. Costumes usually consist of a choli (a large headscarf) and a white sari with a gold border, worn so that a pleated fan is formed like an apron in front of the waist. Hair is tied in a bun to the side of the head and flowers worn around it. A gold waistband and jewellery are used. These distinguishing features give Mohiniattam its distinctively feminine, graceful character. Mohiniattam is performed to verbal notations which are sung by a female voice, adding to the ambience of elegance. Music is in the Carnatic mode and the principal instruments are the mridangam, flute and cymbals.


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